Snowman may be the only survivor of an unnamed apocalypse. Once he was Jimmy, a member of a scientific elite; now he lives in isolation and loneliness, trawling through the past - the disappearance of his mother and the arrival of his mysterious childhood companions Oryx and Crake.
In Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake, the answer is both. For Atwood, our future is the catastrophic sum of our oversights. It's a depressing view, saved only by Atwood's biting, black humor and absorbing storytelling.
If you look at some of the mainstays of the category—Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Robert Merle's Malevil, Stephen King's The Stand, et al.—they share the structure that the epidemic/nuclear war/disaster of choice strikes and the story focuses on the survivors coping with the aftermath. I don't want to take anything away from those works (I enjoyed each of them) but, in a sense, they share as much with the adventure story genus as they do with speculative fiction.
Atwood has given us something different. Though she does show us a bit of what the aftermath looks like, it's a minor part of the book...a skeleton upon which to hang the real story: the cautionary tale of why the disaster happened in the first place. (I'm not a fan of spoilers in reviews, so I'll just leave it that the answer to "why?" might surprise you.) In a way, by exploiting that strength of science fiction that allows the author to extrapolate current social forces, Atwood bridges the gap that exists between non-fiction books that caution about what we are already doing and other post-apocalyptic works that posit something went wrong.
Having taken this road, she's done an excellent job, particularly in two areas. The first is the main character of Snowman/Jimmy. He's humorous and charming, even when he's being bad, and it's easy to connect with him. Atwood has made him a product of his particular culture, yet placed him just enough outside of it to give him some perspective for commentary. For me, he was what made the story line work.
The second is her portrayal of society. She managed to capture so many trends (the fetish of youth, a dumbing down of expectation and a rising hunger for "bread and circuses", a growing disparity between the haves and have nots) and weave them together into a picture that passed the test of feeling real whether one thinks we'll actually go that route or not.
I'm ambivalent about the fact that there is a semi-sequel. You will either love or hate the ending of Oryx and Crake—I loved it and might like to leave it there.
This is only my second Margaret Atwood novel, and after loving The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m really wondering why it took me so long to read another. I adore dystopias and Atwood has created another intriguing world here, if not quite as plausible. When Jimmy was a child, the Corporations ruled supreme, essentially acting as one big government. The world outside of the Corporations was unimportant, the people only used as test subjects and cash cows as medicines were infused with illnesses to keep the market booming. If any worker betrayed insider secrets, they were killed. This was the world of Jimmy’s childhood, and while he wasn’t brilliant enough for a high position, his best friend Glenn, later known as Crake, certainly was. It is Crake who sets out to change everything and puts in motion the events that destroy the world as everyone knows it.
While I couldn’t say I actually liked any of the characters, which was the book’s weakest point, it was hard for me to tear myself away from this book. I was fascinated by the development of the plot; we know early on that the world has changed drastically, but finding out just how and why was riveting. I didn’t like Jimmy/Snowman all that much, due to his escapades with women and his irritating obsession with Oryx, but I loved the curiosities of his world. His struggle to find more food allows us to relate to him even as we dislike him, but it also serves the purpose of guiding us through more of the world.
For me, the best part was the Crakers, the genetically altered beings that Crake created. What I liked about them was that even though they were modified to escape supposed human foibles, they still exhibited that humanity. This was mainly through their acceptance of a god-like story featuring, as expected, Oryx and Crake. Even though they’re reportedly hard-wired to miss out on all mistakes, they are still people and it’s almost as though we can see their mythology evolving. Snowman doesn’t know how else to explain it to them and they latch on remarkably easily. Fascinating stuff, and that really cemented the entire book for me.
Atwood is a remarkable author. Oryx and Crake has convinced me that I really need to get reading more of her work. I certainly recommend this, especially to those who enjoy dystopias and science fiction.
So that's what art is for the artist, an empty drainpipe. An amplifier. A stab at getting laid.”
“Immortality,' said Crake, ' is a concept. If you take 'mortality' as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then 'immortality' is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear, and you'll be...”
“Jimmy, look at it realistically. You can't couple a minimum access to food with an expanding population indefinitely. Homo sapiens doesn't seem to be able to cut himself off at the supply end. He's one of the few species that doesn't limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources. In other words - and up to a point, of course - the less we eat, the more we fuck."
"How to do you account for that?" said Jimmy
"Imagination," said Crake. "Men can imagine their own deaths...human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else...and live on forever.”
Woah, this was such a terrific read, a powerful rollercoaster ride, scary, dark, but also funny and ironic. It is a book filled with coarse language but sucks you in anyway. The questions raised in this story, nothing new there, but presented in a truly compelling way. Where should we draw the line in regards to gen technological manipulations of humans, animals and nature? Do we deserve to live, with all the power we have to destroy our planet and ourselves? What are the repercussions of what we are creating in regards to our children?
Somewhere, not too far in the future we meet Snowman, who appears to be the only human survivor of a global biological and ecological disaster. Trying to survive in this new situation with genetically altered animals, plants and a new type of hybrid people – not quite human, but not animal either – he slowly faces starvation. Whilst Snowman forages for supplies his story unfolds and we meet the boy and then the man Snowman has been before the catastrophe hit. We hear the story of the boy Jimmy, who grows into a relatively naive and shallow young man and together we hurtle towards the end of the world. We meet Crake his childhood friend, a genius and mad scientist, and Oryx, whom they both loved.
What I loved about the story was Atwood’s incredible imagination. She presents us with pigoons, unique modified pigs used for organ harvesting, rakunks, wolvogs, well then we get ChickyNobbs, happycuppa and the likes, as hardly anything natural is available anymore. Aside from internet porn, games and executions she also presents us with an assisted suicide site called nitee-nite.com, if that’s nothing? This was such a marvelous read, and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel.
Two of the principal characters, those named in the title, are gone. The people they’ve left behind are new… plant eaters, naked and colourful, placid and obedient to the wishes of the beneficent Crake, and of the kind Oryx. This pains Snowman – who used to be named Jimmy – because he never got to be a god, despite relaying the wishes of Oryx and Crake to these people for whom he feels responsible, and because all the people like Snowman have been wiped out. How and why, the reader discovers in a delightfully paced, teasing drip of information. Man’s ingenuity remains in their place; Wolvogs, Pigoons, Rakunks. Half-empty bottles of scotch.
The book’s edge over most in the genre is the way the reader is left wondering just how far into our future any of these leaps of writerly imagination actually are. Wry and cynical, the book may be, but it’s unnervingly close to plausible, in terms of societal evolution, and that makes it all the more enjoyable a read.
Atwood writes fabulous prose; so fabulous that it’s hard to mind that she’s just been kicking humanity in the teeth for 400+ pages.
Those valued by the corporations live in heavily guarded walled compounds. Everyone else lives in pleeblands which have disintegrated into mass chaos.
One of the ultra science geniuses, Crake, decided humankind was beyond redemption and needed to start over. Since genetic engineering had been perfected and Crake was highly prized by the corporation, he had the wherewithal to genetically engineer a new type of human. These new humans were designed without many of the pesky human traits that Crake felt contributed to humanity's downfall. Said traits include, among others, romantic love, belief in God, agression and competiveness. He was also able to design a fast acting virus to rid the planet of the other sort of human.
The novel opens with these new humans, the Crakers, being watched over by Snowman, a human survivor word person who was Crake's best friend when they were adolescents.
We're given a lady or the tiger type ending and the question--are humans beyond redemption?
However, this time I was struck with how Atwood seems to be exploring how we construct reality. The scientific aspects of the story involve genetic engineering. The characters are trying to build life that isn’t susceptible to disease, discomfort, or other frailties. But the scientists aren’t alone in that. Before the disaster, Snowman/Jimmy worked in communications, in spin-doctoring. When he talks to the Crakers, he tells them a version of the truth that he thinks they can understand and that will not overly distress them. But the rabbit hole goes deeper. In fact, on this second encounter with the story, I’m convinced that a lot of what is presented as truth in Snowman’s flashbacks is in fact a massaging of the truth, designed to fit Snowman’s fantasies. But where does Snowman’s fantasy end and the truth begin?
See my complete review at my blog.
Jimmy is a bright kid from a slightly dysfunctional family who becomes friends with the new kid in school, a cool geek everyone calls Crake. The story of Jimmy's childhood and early adulthood and relationship with Crake are told in flashbacks, as the real-time Jimmy struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The author manages the transitions back and forth in time deftly, and the two threads come together at the end with a similar dilemma in each. Oryx, the other title character, is a child prostitute and porn star with whom both boys fall in love, with predictable results.
The strident message of the book concerns the moral quandary facing genetic scientists when the world has devolved to a violent and degenerate society whose members struggle to survive on the earth's depleted resources. The warning of "this could happen to you" is felt throughout. Both are typical themes of apocalyptic novels, and I was rather disappointed that I didn't find some special twist or flash of originality, which I expected from an Atwood novel. When the novel ends, or rather, doesn't end, I was left feeling like "so, what? Did I miss something?"
I listened to the Audio version of this which worked very well since the book is written in first person. The disjointed telling of a story, some of it current time, some of it dreams, some of it memories that come to Snowman as the book progresses is a very effective method and keeps you guessing about what has happened.
Although you can see the outlines of just how Snowman ended up in his tree quite early on, the details are the arresting feature and oddly compelling. It’s like watching a train wreck or an automobile accident. You want to look away but can’t quite do it.
Certainly a cautionary tale, and one that is all too possible.
The novel opens in a post-apocalyptic shore-side wilderness where the only survivor (presumably), Snowman, is barely surviving. He sleeps in a tree and spends his days in a hallucinatory stupor. The only breaks in the monotony are visits from children who turn out to be genetically engineered post-humans, with glowing green eyes and the ability to eat leaves.
Gradually, Snowman — whose pre-apocalypse name is Jimmy — reveals the events leading up to the disaster as he remembers them. He grew up in a corporate compound separated by walls and guards from the “pleeblands,” where the poor lived in crowded, polluted slums. His father worked for a powerful company conducting research in genetic engineering to come up with new products designed to relieve food shortages, prolong life and preserve beauty, resulting in such bizarre creations as the pigoon and the rakunk. As a teenager, Snowman befriends a brilliant but anti-social young man who calls himself Crake, whose genius enables him to attend a prestigious and luxurious university and then get a high-profile job conducting top-secret eugenics research. Crake brings his old friend into the compound where he works, and there Snowman learns that Crake has engineered a new race of people who don’t have many of the “problems” we do.
Also there is Oryx, the beautiful, victimized woman who both men love. Yes, this is a grand story about the downfall of the human race, but it is also the oldest story of all: a love triangle.
This book kept me fascinated and disturbed until the very end. There were so many outlandish details, but at the heart it explores some fundamental issues: the unchecked power of people wielding science, without regard for consequences; the calamitous effects of environmental abuse; the potential within us to destroy ourselves; the follies of playing god. The only criticism I have is that the ending is a bit unsatisfying. It just leaves us hanging. But overall, Atwood is a terrific writer exploring the science fiction themes of apocalypse and dystopia, and Oryx and Crake is a terrific contribution to this genre.
When a genetically engineered disease strikes, the world quickly dissolves into chaos.
Atwood has something to say about our strong focus on retaining our youth, and the pharmaceutical companies who make huge profits at our expense. The world she portrays seems to have stopped caring and yet, the novel ends on a positive note. Snowman proves to be more humane than his world had taught him to be.
Despite the storyline being so dark, I found the writing almost brilliant. The techno jargon is believable and the author makes ample use of flashbacks to seamlessly give us the back-story. While the story is unique, it owes a large debt to two other stories: Johnny Mnemonic, by William Gibson, and William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies. Gibson, while certainly not the first, told us that drug companies are not necessarily your best friends, and that theme is echoed in Oryx and Crake. While nowhere near the proportions of Lord of the Flies, this novel deals with the nature of society and civilization while leaving you to ponder the real conclusion to the story.
Despite my enthusiasm for the story, I felt there are some real problems with some scenes. The science of the story seems well researched and yet there are some descriptions that are very contrary to scientific explanation. As I alluded to, the weather conditions have been drastically altered by global warming. The setting is described as tropical. Despite this, one of the main characters comes across the bodies of people who, according to the book’s time line, have been dead for quite a while, yet they are not in an advanced state of decomposition. There were other smaller errors, but this was the most blatant.
Despite anomalies like this, I felt the underlying premise, and the man made disaster resulting from that premise, was in the realm of probability, much like the underlying cause of the plague Stephen King unleashed in The Stand. And like The Stand, you may never listen to news stories quite the same after reading Oryx and Crake. You may find yourself reconsidering your position on genetically enhanced products and foods.
To begin with, Atwood’s use of language is superb. She deftly crafts scenes that come alive through her detailed descriptions.
While normally not a fan of science fiction, I enjoyed the story Atwood was telling. Jimmy/Snowman is a fascinating character. He was so human, in a novel that is exploring genetic engineering or everything from plants to people, that one could not help but become entangled in his tale, and have sympathy for him, even when some of his actions weren’t sympathetic.
Bottom line, I couldn’t put this novel down. Atwood is a genius and I cannot wait to explore her other novels.
Not only is the world building nicely done, but I was completely invested in the outcome for the sake of the characters. The main character is not very likable, but by books end I was more of a fan of his. Little nods to real world history, conspiracy theories, and government interference make this all that much more interesting.
Oryx and Crake takes place in a dystopia world that seems largely unrealistic at first glance, but Atwood has a way of making all of the oddities all seem quite imaginable.
There is a huge, and I mean the hugest of cliffhangers in the end, which I am never ver fond of, but I can forgive it for the most part because I feel like I did get the answers to the questions that the book was intended to deliver, thus getting a complete story. The cliffhanger was one of those deals that just insures that the reader will come back for more, and I will.
The blurb on the back of the book is pretty vague about what the book is about. I think I got a lot from the experience of letting the book unfold without knowing much about it, so I don't want to talk too much about what happens. We follow Jimmy, alias Snowman, in his life after the "flood" that wiped out humanity as he watches over the Children of Crake. Much of the book tells the story of Jimmy and how he ended up in this situation, as well as the stories of Oryx and Crake, as seen through Jimmy's eyes.
The future world is pretty appalling – corporations have secured cities called Compounds where their employees live and work. The rest of the world live in "pleeblands" – dangerous, lawless cities. Corporations dominate the world, using advanced scientific techniques to create animals, pills, self-help tapes – anything that will increase their profit margin and make consumers even more dependent on them.
However, the real focus of the book is on the characters. Jimmy, Oryx and Crake are all characters with serious problems, but it seems like everyone in that world has serious problems by modern day standards. Jimmy makes a very interesting narrator, he seems so hapless (and has terrible survival skills) and stupid, compared to the people he reminisces about. Jimmy the neurotypical, as he is called at one point. Since we only see the other characters through his eyes, we don't know what actually happened and what is just his interpretation of what happened. He is not without his own insecurities, so it is quite probable that his opinions are coloured by them.
I don't think I can say much more about the book without ruining certain plot elements, so I won't say much more. All the characters' psychologies are scarily real, and this book stuck with me for days afterward. I still keep occasionally thinking about parts of it.
I will read The Year of the Flood, set in the same world and part of a proposed trilogy, but not until a couple of months have passed. It would make me too sad to read it right away.
Originally posted on my blog.
The novel is the first book of the MaddAddam trilogy. It is a dystopian novel covering a period of about 25 years in an unspecified future. While several references to current events are called “ancient,” the technology for the most part is not that far-fetched for the near future. In fact, I don’t think it in any way a spoiler to mention that a casual reference in the second book of the trilogy to Sojourner Truth who “lived two centuries ago” would put the whole of the book in the mid-21st century.
Wikipedia defines The garrison mentality as “a common theme in Canadian literature and Canadian cinema, in both English Canada and French Canada. In texts with the garrison mentality, characters are always looking outwards and building metaphorical walls against the outside world. This mentality is assumed to come from part of the Canadian identity that fears the emptiness of the Canadian landscape and fears the oppressiveness of other nations (especially the United States). The term was first coined by literary critic Northrop Frye and further explored by author Margaret Atwood, who discussed Canada's preoccupation with the theme of survival in her book [Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature].
The definition is apt and applies to this novel because the protagonist Jimmy/Snowman and the title characters are Corp men living inside corporate compounds with limited access to the outer world, the so-called “pleeblands.” It is a violent world of corporate espionage, which is the rationale for the limited access of the Corp men to the pleeblands. Access is closely watched by the corporate security corps, the aptly named CorpSeCorps. They do produce corpses! The “metaphorical walls” in the definition are not so metaphorical. In this volume of the trilogy, the action mostly takes place as a series of flashbacks by Snowman who is living outside the corporate world in a tree after a world-wide catastrophe implied, but not yet specified. In his present state he is alone but for a group of gene-spliced men designed by Crake. Appropriately they are called Crakers.
The social issues touched upon in this novel are primarily violence, runaway technology, resource depletion, and global warming. Violence is casual; it occurs, though in different ways, both inside the corporate compounds and in the pleeblands. It is often sexual; Oryx starts out in an indefinite Asian Country as a child sex-slave imported to America where she ends up with Crake. Jimmy and Glenn/Crake started together in high school as friends until they go their separate ways in College. (They will come together again, but I don’t want spoilers here.) They play computer games together (Crake is a genius at it) including watching pornography and real time executions here. Jimmy is promiscuous; one almost wonders at times if Crake knows what that thing is for. This is the area where the course language, of course, becomes almost gratuitous.
Runaway technology is represented by gene splicing. It is here that the speculative fiction gets perhaps a little far-fetched. If the story is set in mid-21st century as I suggested, then we’ve a little ways to go to get go gene-splicing rakunks (cute raccoon skunks) or pigoons. The latter neologism refers to pig+balloon because of their size/shape. They are built to contain human organs to be transplanted to their owners in case of later need. When escaped into the wild, they are dangerous because of their size and because they have parts of human forebrains, giving them an uncanny intelligence even for a pig. And, of course, like pigs they are omnivorous and eat like pigs. Another danger is the creation of perfectly designed humans, the Crakers. Ethical issues here are suggested, but are mostly left in the background.
Resource waste and depletion is rife. Real meat and real veggies are rare. Artificial, manufactured, and gene-splice foods are the regular fare. Happicuppa ® coffee is made from gene-spliced beans. I won’t say where the Secret Burger comes from. And so on. Global warming has come to this twenty-first century world, and executives winter on the Hudson Bay to enjoy the cooler weather. Weather is extreme with severe storms every day and frequent tornados.
The book can be read as a stand-alone; it tells the story of Oryx and Crake and of Jimmy, but it leaves threads hanging. The minor characters are picked up in the second book. I can only guess at what Margaret Atwood will do with the third, but I do feel presently that I am left two legs of a tripod. My metaphor for a trilogy like [Lord of the Rings] would be three sections of an extension ladder.
Read my full review at The Book Lady's Blog.
At first it was very hard to follow the invented vocabulary – pigoons and racunks, pleeblands and BlyssPluss. But eventually things straightened themselves out. Immediately we understand that the Crakers are physically different from Snowman and have no perception, memory or understanding of the world before. One scene shows Snowman trying in vain to explain what toast is to a bunch of people who have no conception of electricity, breakfast, bread, wheat or kitchens.
That difference is staggeirng - a world with toast and a world without. Fascinating and hard to imagine. Great speculative fiction. Not science fiction per se as the science is admittedly weak. But excellent characters and perspectives.